Marketing compliance for small businesses.


21st February, 2020

Marketing compliance: Achieving cut-through without being cut

In small business, you want to do everything possible to create awareness of your products and services, but there are a few regulations that make understanding marketing compliance of critical importance.

As a small business owner, you’re usually a Jack or Jill of all trades, having to handle a wide variety of different tasks within your organisation. Usually, one of those jobs is overseeing all marketing activity.

When you’re busy juggling a stack of projects, though, it can not only be challenging trying to find the time to sort out your marketing but also to make sure you know all the necessary ins and outs about it.

In particular, entrepreneurs must be careful to run their marketing campaigns in a legal, honest way so as to avoid complaints from consumers and, at worst, a penalty from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

There’s much to know, so it pays to get specific advice for your business by speaking to an experienced legal professional. You can also look to implement a voluntary compliance program, as detailed on the ACCC website.

But, to give you an overview of some of the key things to watch out for, we’ve pieced together the following best practice advice.

READ: How to write a marketing plan

4 basics of email marketing compliance

Most companies today send out e-newsletters to alert customers to new products or services, or special deals, and to hopefully entice people to buy.

Also known as eDM (electronic direct mail) this digital medium is excellent at generating sales but be aware there are also legalities that can catch out the uninitiated.

1. Building a subscriber list requires permission

For example, never sign someone up to your newsletter list without their permission.

Just because someone enters one of your competitions, enquires about one of your products, or emails you for a quote, this doesn’t mean they’re also giving you the okay to add them to your database.

Instead, build your email subscriber base by offering people an opt-in whenever they interact with a page of your website.

2. Avoid spamming people

You may see your communications as valuable, but until someone permits you to send one to them, it’s not your place to do so.

Even when they have given you permission, people will expect emails you send to be relevant and timely, according to whatever expectations you set with them upon sign-up.

3. Let them leave with an unsubscribe link

All e-newsletters must have an easy-to-find unsubscribe link within them.

People must be able to remove themselves ASAP from your list if they want to.

Honour these unsubscribe requests in a timely fashion, within ten days or less (depending on your email marketing platform, you may be able to process these requests instantaneously, which is preferred).

4. Subject lines should reflect actual content

When writing the subject lines of your newsletters, choose your wording carefully.

The subject line is generally the copy that your audience will see first upon receiving the email, so it needs to be crafted in such a way to entice them to open it. But the need for clicks shouldn’t supersede being honest.

Baiting recipients to open messages by writing attention-grabbing headings that don’t reflect what’s in the content is frowned upon and may land you in hot water with the ACCC.

Copyright infringement in marketing

When creating your marketing campaigns, you’re likely going to need to use a variety of extra pieces, such as photographs, videos, infographics, graphs and potentially more besides.

Many small business owners don’t realise that copying anything belonging to another person or company without permission can result in a copyright infringement case.

Fact is, you can’t just take something you find online and repurpose it for your marketing needs.

It doesn’t matter where you find the material or how you use it; unless there is express permission to use it, you’re potentially stealing someone’s copyrighted material.

To reduce your risk of fines and other issues, you should create your own material or pay someone else to make content for you (with the agreement that you’ll own the copyright for the resulting material).

You might also consider paying someone for the right to use their material.

An example of this is when you buy a photograph from a stock image website.

You can also use images and other content that you find for free online, in the case that the owner of the copyright has opened the work up to the public domain, or where the work is in the public domain because the copyright has expired or been forfeited.

READ: So you’ve been copycatted? Your guide to trademark

Contests and competitions aren’t as straightforward as you’d think

Competitions can be helpful to boost interest in your brand but, again, be aware that there are numerous rules and regulations in place about how to run them.

Various agencies monitor competitions to make sure they’re run fairly and honestly.

You must, for example, give away what you say you will, without any complications in the fine print to trip people up.

There are also two major types of competition to be aware of, each with its own set of considerations for remaining compliant. Generally speaking, competitions will either be a ‘game of chance’ whereby the winner is decided by luck, or a ‘game of skill’ where the winner is determined by competition against the other players.

If you’re thinking of running a competition, you’ll want to identify which type you’re planning on running, and familiarise yourself with the law regarding how they should be run.

Using entrant details in any other ways than as specified in the Terms and Conditions of your contest is a big no-no.

Truthfully disclose all the eligibility requirements for people entering the contest, and make certain that the winners are determined fairly.

Also, note that many social media sites, Facebook in particular, monitor competitions run on their websites closely, and have numerous standards affecting contests that entrepreneurs should learn about.

READ: Why giving away free stuff isn’t so simple

Liability regarding special offers

Advertising special offers to your audience can be another great way to drum up business.

When you do this, be careful to advertise your deals legally.

To cover yourself from potential liability, make the terms and conditions of the offers clear in your ads.

Whether you have deals on discounted goods or services, free shipping, value-add deals with purchase, or other special offers, consumers need to know what they have to do to gain access to these benefits, and how long the deals last for.

Basically, you want to deliver on any promise made in your offers.

But that also means your offer should be realistic – you don’t want to accidentally over promise as this can land you in as much trouble as if you’d intentionally mislead people.

You might also have something in your T&Cs that explains that you can swap one bonus for another if you run out of stock, or that free gifts are only available “while stocks last”, and so on.

No matter what kinds of marketing strategies you use over the coming months, think about consumer rights when you’re planning and executing the ideas.

Research legalities and other requirements as needed, so you protect your business interests and maintain compliance at all times.